The Mysterious Mathematical Principle That Links Bus Systems and Chicken Eyes

iStock
iStock

Math is everywhere—if you know where to look. Elegant equations can be observed in everything from flower petals to swirling galaxies. Universality, a phenomenon that strikes a balance between order and randomness, is one of these ubiquitous mathematical patterns that repeats itself again and again in the natural world. As Quanta Magazine lays out in the new episode of its In Theory video series, examples of universality can be seen in biology, quantum physics, and even public transportation.

In math, universality is what determines the spacing between solutions in a large matrix of random numbers. The numbers that go into the matrices may themselves be random, but when they interact, they produce a predictable outcome.

You can see the same principle at work in the world around us. Take bus routes, for instance. In 1999, a Czech physicist named Petr Šeba found the pattern in Cuernavaca, Mexico after observing how the city's bus system operated. Paid "spies" were positioned along the bus routes, and whenever a bus came, they'd let the driver know how long it had been since the last one passed through. Based on this intel, the bus driver would either slow down or speed up to maximize his passengers at the next stop. On paper, this method creates a barcode pattern of lines that appear to be placed at random but actually follow a set pattern.

That same random-looking pattern appears elsewhere, too, like in chicken eyes. While the color-sensitive cone cells in the eyes of some animals, like fish, are laid out uniformly across the retina, the cells in chickens' eyes look different. The cone cells are different sizes and look like they're scattered at random. But these cells are actually distributed according to the universality pattern—the first-ever instance of the pattern recorded in biology.

You can also see universality when you map out the energy spectrum of the uranium nucleus, the spectral measurements of sea ice, and elsewhere. To learn more about the math behind universality and how to spot it in the real world, check out the video below.

[h/t Quanta Magazine]

31 Facts About Sharks

Simba, the world's most adorable Pomeranian, hosts The List Show. Some enamored human being helps … we think her name is Erin McCarthy.
Simba, the world's most adorable Pomeranian, hosts The List Show. Some enamored human being helps … we think her name is Erin McCarthy.

Sharks are some of the world's most intimidating creatures, right down to their species names. There’s the hammerhead shark, the great white shark, the bull shark—but did you know there’s also a cookiecutter shark? Don’t be fooled by its name, though: Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy says that the cookiecutter shark often preys on animals many times its size, and isn’t afraid to take a chunk out of a human. (And how they take a bite out of something is even more terrifying/fascinating.)

In this week’s edition of The List Show, Erin gives the lowdown on 31 amazing shark-related facts, including details on some Icelandic delicacies that even Anthony Bourdain found disgusting to trivia about Peter Benchley's Jaws.

You can watch the full episode—and catch Erin doing her best Tom Jones impression—below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

Watch Avengers: Endgame's Epic Final Battle in 16-Bit Animation

Mr Sunday Movies via YouTube
Mr Sunday Movies via YouTube

It’s indisputable that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has highly dedicated fans who are willing to go the extra mile to pay tribute to their favorite films. The fan response to Avengers: Endgame has kept up this standard, with a deluge of art flooding the internet since the film’s premiere in April. Now, a fan creation has emerged to offer a new look at a climactic Endgame scene: a 16-bit rendition of the final battle.

The animated short was produced by animator John Stratman and musical artist Kenny Mac, and was posted on the YouTube channel Mr Sunday Movies, as reported by The A,V, Club. The animation was adapted from Marvel-branded Super Nintendo video games, with extra creative energy being applied to characters who weren’t present in these games.

Though the short doesn’t include voice acting from the film, it mitigates this absence with a send-up to classic video games, which features boxes with text in place of voiced dialogue. And it appears that Stratman and Mac went to great lengths to capture the scene accurately, rendering specific shots and exact lines in their 16-bit format.

Endgame, meanwhile, has achieved worldwide financial success and critical acclaim, winning Best Movie at the MTV Movie & TV Awards and coming closer to the coveted spot of highest-grossing movie of all time (just behind James Cameron’s Avatar). Marvel Studios, capitalizing on this success, has announced that the film will return to theaters with extra footage this weekend.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER